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Charging for tap water – is it justifiable?

G Hui

Singapore is an island surrounded by water. Rainfall is plentiful and the tap water is drinkable. There are established protected areas in urban rainwater catchments and estuaries which are used as fresh water reservoirs.

There is also sea water desalination. In 2007, Singapore’s water and sanitation unit, the Public Utilities Board, received the Stockholm Industry Water Award in recognition of its holistic approach to water

resources management. Access to water in Singapore is therefore universal, affordable, efficient and of high quality.

I read with interest an article on Yahoo Singapore entitled: “Restaurant staff’s clapping was uncalled for: Joanne Peh”. Ms Peh is an actress with a local company.

Amongst other things, the article mentioned that the Tanglin Mall outlet of Nando’s wanted to charge the actress $3.90 for a cup of hot water. The restaurant’s reason was that the restaurant did not have a policy of serving tap water and that if she wanted hot water, she would have to pay for tea. When she pointed out that bottled water was only $1.80 and that it would be easy to heat that up, the restaurant conceded and charged her $1.80. Be that as it may, $1.80 for water is a ridiculous charge. Why force paying patrons to pay for bottled water when they are already paying to have a meal in the establishment, especially when drinkable water is available at the twist of a tap at negligible cost.

I can understand the logic of not wanting to hand out free water if customers are not dining in. However, if a customer is paying for a full meal, such as dinner in this case, the establishment should not be
quibbling over a glass of tap water! Even if it wanted to charge for the water, 30 cents should be sufficient. There should not be a requirement for patrons to buy bottled water.

Unfortunately, it would appear that Nando’s is not the only establishment that charges for water. I understand from an article entitled “Charging for water: Yes or no?” in TimeOut Singapore that there exist many establishments that refuse to serve tap water.

I am told that it is illegal to charge for tap water in the United Kingdom. Similarly, it is illegal in Australia not to serve tap water in a bar. The availability of clean, drinking water is a basic human right. There should not be a charge levied on customers who are already paying for food and/or drinks (excluding tap water).

An added issue is an environmental one. Thousands of plastic bottles are generated and thrown as a result of bottled water. This can be significantly reduced if patrons who would have been perfectly happy with tap water are not forced to buy bottled water.

People go to restaurants for food and bars for drinks. They do not go to these establishments to drink water. So, if customers are already paying for the food and drinks they have ordered, why nitpick over a glass of tap water? This strikes me as unnecessarily petty and short sighted. Not to mention, penny pinching to the extreme!

Restaurants and bars should not be permitted to disallow the service of tap water and if they want to charge for it, there should be regulations limiting this charge to not more than 30 cents.

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Headline picture from Insing.